Saturday, October 21, 2006

239. Old Paintings On Italian Walls - Kathleen Raine

Who could have thought that men and women could feel,
With consciousness so delicate, such tender secret joy?
With finger-tips of touch as fine as music,
They greet one another on viols of painted gold
Attuned to harmonies of world with world.
They sense, with inward look and breath withheld,
The stir of intangible presences
Upon the threshold of the human heart alighting––
Angels winged with air, with transparent light,
Archangels with wings of fire and faces veiled.
Their eyes gleam with wisdom radiant from an invisible sun.

Others contemplate the mysteries of sorrow:
Some have carried the stigmata, themselves icons
Depicting a passion no man as man can know,
We being ignorant of what we do;
And painted wounded hands are by the same knowledge formed
Beyond the ragged ache that flesh can bear
And we with blunted mind and senses dulled endure.
Giotto's compassionate eyes, rapt in sympathy of grief,
See the soul's wounds that hate has given to love,
And those that love must bear
With the spirit that suffers always and everywhere.

Those painted shapes stilled in perpetual adoration
Behold in visible form invisible essences
That hold their gaze entranced through centuries; and we
In true miraculous icons may see still what they see,
Though the sacred lineaments grow faint, the outlines crumble,
And the golden heavens grow dim
Where the Pantocrator shows in vain wounds once held precious.
Paint and stone will not hold them to our world
When those who once cast their bright shadows on those walls
Have faded from our ken, we from their knowledge fallen.

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